Clause 52 - Identified potential victims in England and Wales: assistance and support

Part of Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 2 November 2021.

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Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office) 10:30, 2 November 2021

The amendments seek to incorporate our international legal obligations under ECAT within the provisions of support available to victims during the recovery period, as well as extending statutory support for those who have received a positive conclusive grounds decision.

Having already discussed the changes to the recovery period in our discussion of clause 50, I will not repeat myself, but it is important to consider these amendments alongside the provisions in clause 50. We share the concerns of Christian Action, Research, and Education, or CARE, which has worked with us on amendment 4, that clauses 52 and 53 have the potential, if they remain unamended, to

“make matters worse for victims”.

Amendment 2 would update the definition of the reasons for providing a recovery period as solely to harm

“arising from the conduct which resulted in the positive reasonable grounds decision in question,” and replace it with the requirement to assist a person

“in their physical, psychological and social recovery or to prevent their retrafficking.”

Therefore, amendment 2 would put into the Bill the wording of article 13 of ECAT, which provides support

“necessary to assist victims in their physical, psychological and social recovery”.

The British Red Cross has highlighted that

“making support dependent on specific ‘harm’ caused by the ‘conduct’ that led someone to be identified as a victim, fails to recognise the reality of human trafficking”.

The Home Office’s own research from 2017 says that

“unlike most crimes, which are time-limited single events, modern slavery is a hidden crime of indeterminate duration”— in that it involves multiple locations and individuals. Therefore, amendment 2 better reflects the Home Office’s own assessment of the nature of human trafficking.

Amendment 4 seeks to set out the types of assistance and support that must be provided to a victim of modern slavery. Colleagues will be aware that presently neither the Modern Slavery Act 2015 nor the Bill includes such a provision, and therefore amendment 4 would fill a significant void in the legislation. The types of assistance and support include a range of provisions, such as safe accommodation, medical advice, a support worker, access to translation services, counselling, and assistance in obtaining legal advice or representation.

Amendment 4 is a practical and reasonable measure, and one that we hope will provide a sense of certainty and security to support survivors as they move towards recovery and towards justice, as confidence in the process grows, which will foster trust between agencies and victims, and enable more perpetrators to be brought before the courts. The types of assistance defined are basic provisions that victims should be entitled to if they are to rebuild their lives.

Building upon this idea of defining assistance, amendment 3 would offer long-term support to survivors with a positive conclusive grounds decision, stipulating that the Secretary of State must also secure assistance for at least 12 months, beginning on the day that the recovery period ends.

Given that there is no mention of statutory support after a conclusive grounds decision, amendment 3 seeks to correct another considerable omission from the Bill. In 2020, the Centre for Social Justice said:

“Long-term support is a further significant gap in the support system. In recent years a number of reports have concluded that the lack of long-term support puts victims of modern slavery at risk of homelessness, destitution and even re-trafficking after they exit the NRM support provision. It also has a significant negative impact on their engagement with the criminal justice system”.

This approach has broad support, as these amendments would build upon the recommendations made by the Work and Pensions Committee in 2017, which stated that

“There is very little structured support for confirmed victims once they have been given a ‘Conclusive Grounds’ decision...We recommend that all victims of modern slavery be given a personal plan which details their road to recovery, and acts as a passport to support, for at least the 12 month period of discretionary leave.”

Similar measures were also incorporated in the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill introduced by Lord McColl of Dulwich, which awaits its Second Reading in the House of Lords. That Bill was greatly welcomed across the human trafficking sector and by all parties.

To summarise the case for amendments 2, 4 and 3, they are vital in expanding support for victims, and can boast wide support. I very much hope that the Minister will reflect on their merits.

On clause 52 more broadly, we welcome the fact that support for victims in England and Wales is being placed on a statutory basis during the recovery period, but this change is undermined by the limitations on support, and the decision to reduce the minimum recovery period from 45 to 30 days under earlier clauses. The clause introduces provisions for assistance and support only

“if the Secretary of State considers that it is necessary” for recovery, mental health and wellbeing purposes, and crucially only if the recovery is from harm caused directly by the trafficking.

In the explanatory notes, the Government state that the intention behind the clause is to implement the UK’s ECAT obligations under article 13 to provide a recovery period to potential victims of modern slavery, but that is not really what has been included in the Bill. The explanatory report on ECAT says that articles 12 and 13 are

“an important guarantee for victims and serve…a number of purposes.”

This wording emphasises the “guarantee” of support, and its serving different purposes. By contrast, the clause narrows the scope of the recovery support received solely to support needed as a result of harm

“arising from the conduct which resulted in the positive reasonable grounds decision in question.”

The Anti Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit claims that as a result, the clause will

“create a huge evidential burden on survivors, in demonstrating that their recovery needs are linked to their experiences of having been trafficked”.

It adds that the clause will also

“necessitate an increase in the number of medico-legal reports that the Competent Authority will be required to consider.”

To summarise, the clause has the potential to further disqualify victims from support entirely. It has nothing at all to offer a person who had physical and mental needs before being trafficked—needs that may have been a factor in them having been targeted by criminal gangs. It risks trapping victims in an endless cycle of exploitation, which will undermine our ability to identify victims and prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes. For these reasons, the clause should not stand part of the Bill in its current form.